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Village of Lewiston seeks criminal justice reforms

by jmaloni
Sat, Feb 22nd 2020 07:00 am

By Joshua Maloni

GM/Managing Editor

Trustees in the Village of Lewiston on Tuesday joined the New York State Conference of Mayors in calling for criminal justice reforms. Specifically, elected leaders are looking for increased protection for past victims and potential targets.

The Village Board unanimously approved a resolution authored by NYCOM that reads, in part, “While there was a need to reform New York’s criminal justice statutes during the 2019 state legislative session, it is widely recognized that several of the drastic changes in the laws pertaining to discovery are overly broad and vague and are having unintended consequences at the municipal level. … The dramatically shortened time period in which prosecutors must disclose evidence to defendants and the broad expansion of the matters to which such discovery mandates apply will have significant cost, tax and justice implications for cities and villages with police departments, local justice courts or code/parking enforcement departments. …

“Now therefore be it resolved that the Village of Lewiston supports the following set of amendments proposed by the New York State Conference of Mayors that are consistent with the intent of the criminal justice reforms, but which will allow for more effective and affordable implementation:

•“Ensure that cities and villages are provided with additional financial and operational support to offset the cost of these mandated measures;

•“Allow 60 days for prosecutors to disclose evidence to the defense for criminal charges;

•“Exclude from the accelerated discovery requirements any charge not involving a misdemeanor or felony;

•“Adjust the 20-day arraignment requirement to accommodate local courts that meet on a monthly basis;

•“Allow prosecutors to withhold sensitive information, such as victim contact information, without having to obtain a court order.”

The resolution will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, New York State Sen. Robert Ortt and Assemblyman Angelo Morinello.

“Everyone feels that something has to be done with it; it has to be repealed, or a better plan, because this plan is not a good plan,” Mayor Anne Welch said. “I mean, you’re letting criminals and sexual predators out. They’ve already arrested other people that have been let out, and they’ve committed crimes again. The system has got to be fixed; it’s not working.”

It was about two years ago when Cuomo spoke of what he called “injustices” in the criminal justice system. He asked, “Why do we have a bail system that says it’s how much money you have that determines whether or not you can get out? And what’s happening now is if you can’t pay the bail, you sit in jail; if you can make the bail, you get out. That’s not justice. That’s two forms of justice, one for the rich and one for the poor.

“Most of the crimes and misdemeanors are non-violent felonies, we want to change the law … get rid of the money, and the judge decides either you’re a significant risk to public safety, in which case you stay in, or you’re released on your own recognizance. Whether you’re rich or poor, you’re black or white, same standard. …

“New York is one of only 10 states where the defendant doesn’t have to be presented any evidence until the day of trial. So you can be sitting there for years, you don’t know who’s charging you with what, what evidence you have, on the day of trial they hand you a big box of paper. You don’t even have a chance to prepare. We want to change the law.”

In a recent NFP article, Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek acknowledged, “There were things that needed to be corrected, without a doubt.” She said defendants had been jailed 30 days waiting for trial simply because they could not afford $500 in bail. “We changed our philosophy in the office, which was ‘Do not ask for bail in a case if we do not ask for jail.’ Our quick phrase was ‘No jail, no bail.’ Meaning, if you are not seeking jail time for this offense, don’t ask for bail. That, to me, was a fair proposition from our office.”

Wojtaszek also said, “A lot of the affected agencies – law enforcement agencies, the District Attorney’s Association for the state – were not at the table, or our concerns were not necessarily contemplated or considered in the passing of the laws.”

Read the full article HERE.

“Hopefully, with everybody – with their input to our officials and our governor – we need to rethink this,” Welch said.

In other board action Tuesday, trustees approved:

•The mayor’s appointments of David Giusiana as an alternate member of the Historical Preservation Commission, and Al Soluri as an alternate member of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

•A motion made by Artpark & Company to extend the noise ordinance from 9 to 10:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 24, for an amphitheater concert with Dropkick Murphys and Rancid.

•A facilities contract request made by iRun WNY Inc. for the Mighty Fitz 5K charity run to benefit the Lewiston Council on the Arts. The event is slated for 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7.

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